Beyond black and white: law and the Eurocrisis

Written by Ellen Halliday on . Posted in Current profiles, Profiles

‘There is this belief that law didn’t matter during Eurocrisis, but law is never black and white,’ said Marijn van der Sluis. ‘You can speed at five miles over the legal limit, or twenty. The degree of violation matters,’ he said. This observation may be obvious to some. Yet by applying the idea to the treaties which defined political responses to the Eurocrisis, van der Sluis offers an explanation for inefficient crisis resolution at a European level.

When van der Sluis arrived at the EUI in the autumn of 2012, ‘it was the height of the Eurocrisis resurgence,’ he recalls. Even in the peaceful surroundings of the Florentine hills, everyone was talking about the struggling currency union. ‘I was immediately thrown into the middle of it,’ he said.

Marijn van der Sluis

Marijn van der Sluis. PhD candidate in Law

The crisis, as it dragged on beyond the Institute’s walls, highlighted the complex connections between the spheres of economics, politics and law in the EU. Van der Sluis quickly realised that in the first response to the crisis, leaders made crucial errors for which law was, at least in part, responsible. Even during the crisis, politicians were acutely aware of the opportunities and obstacles that law offered – but still, they chose the path that stayed close to the original rules, he explained to EUI Times. ‘In how it organises politics, law stands in the way of finding a solution to the Eurocrisis,’ van der Sluis asserted.

Early on during the Eurocrisis, ‘the decision was made to organise the bailouts largely outside the legal framework of the EU, thus squandering an opportunity to reform the EU itself,’ he said. Flexibility and decisiveness are crucial in crises when the financial strength of Greece and even the Euro itself rest on the reactions of unstable markets. Yet the EU is ‘is unable to make quick decisions,’ he said.

The minutiae of legal treaties in the Eurozone means that ‘the union can respond to crisis but it cannot act outside of it,’ van der Sluis explained. When ‘the question of EU reforms returns now,  there is gridlock once again,’ he said. ‘We haven’t made very much progress in developing the political side of economic and monetary integration, and those steps which have been made are strongly contested,’ he explained.

What’s more, the frustration of decision-making by complex law has created a dangerous political habit. ‘There is a strategy of brinkmanship in Europe,’ he said. ‘the idea that you only get something done if you wait until the very last minute. The problem is political, not economic. But this is also a problem of law,’ he said.

The European Union is a fundamentally contested project and so too, Van der Sluis’ research reveals, is the law which shapes it. Law ‘helps to set the stage politically,’ he said. It ‘determines who gets a seat at the table but it doesn’t always demand a specific. The most interesting thing is how law shapes the political process’. This awareness of how law frustrates political decision making and political diversity complicates law is not, van der Sluis acknowledges, in itself a solution to future crises in the Eurozone. Yet, as an academic interested in legal ideas and research, van der Sluis hopes to ‘take law seriously, and to show it is never a case of black and white.’

As he moves on to an academic position at the University of Rotterdam, Van der Sluis is clear about what he will miss most about the process of creating a PhD at the EUI.  The international community who engaged in his work was, he said, ‘exceptional.’ ‘The community here forced me to engage with so many different narratives from across Europe,’ he said. But above all, he will miss ‘the beauty of the surroundings, and the peace that automatically comes with it’. Ultimately, ‘the EUI is a great place to sit down and write your thesis,’ he said.

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